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Political Climate with Mark Simon: San Mateo County has changed forever

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The San Mateo County that was simply is no more.

Once a hotbed of social rest, San Mateo County is an increasingly urbanized technology focal point in the regional, national and global economy, and there is no going back.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the San Mateo County Economic Development Association’s annual showcase of new and innovative companies.

At these events, held every year at the Oracle Conference Center in Redwood Shores, recognized companies have run the gamut from science to medicine to toys to transportation and every other iteration of the new economy imaginable. The presentations often have audience members reaching for their smart phones to look up products and stock symbols.

This year was no exception as seven companies were honored as Innovators. They included startups that are delving deeply into virtual reality animation programming, customized shopping, a convincing alternative to meat and cancer diagnostic tools requiring only the drawing of blood.

Of the seven companies recognized by SAMCEDA, five are in Redwood City, two are in Menlo Park and one is in San Mateo. More interestingly, of the 42 companies honored at this event between 2010-17, 36 still are headquartered in San Mateo County — only six have left. Combined, these 42 companies employ 17,000 people.

As SAMCEDA President and CEO Rosanne Foust told Political Climate, San Mateo County used to be known for its annual “churn” rate of 50 percent – the percentage of companies that would start in the county and then leave. Most companies, if not all, would reach a certain size and then move elsewhere, usually in seeking space for manufacturing facilities.

But then came companies that “laid the foundation,” Foust said. In the late 1970s, Oracle established its world headquarters in Redwood Shores and then Genentech opened in South San Francisco. At first, they were the only major employers from the new economy, but they were the forerunners of companies that now abound.

One key characteristic they share is that their products are virtual and don’t require physical production plants. Facebook is the most dramatic example with its plans to grow substantially in the next decade without leaving Menlo Park. At Facebook, they manufacture ideas and they need their employees to remain together, generating and executing new ideas at a clip that will maintain the company’s success.

Certainly, San Mateo County’s unique setting is an essential part of its appeal – its proximity to San Francisco, the ease of access to the redwoods and the beach. Just as crucial is the presence of Stanford University as a feeder of workers and innovators, and it’s no accident that Stanford is expanding into San Mateo County.

The net result is a reconstitution of the county’s DNA.

“There’s an energy here,” said Foust, and the world’s leading innovators sense it, understand its appeal and want to draw from it and contribute to it.

“The vitality of Redwood City in recent years has created a virtuous cycle with the diverse people and local, national and international businesses fueling an incredible ecosystem,” said Kristy Stromberg, chief marketing officer for Shopkick, one of the Redwood City companies honored at the SAMCEDA event. “It’s a great location for a tech company like ours.”

Stromberg referred to Redwood City as “being in the heart of Silicon Valley.”

There’s something no one would have said 20 years ago, or even 10.

These changes are the most profound to face this community in our lifetime. As I spend more time meeting and talking with the people who are making this change happen, I will revisit this topic with an eye to fully understanding what has happened, what will happen and why.

Yes, the San Mateo County we once knew has changed forever. It’s better – more diverse, more interesting, more dynamic and economically more powerful.

OUT OF THE GATE: Diana Reddy this week became the first Redwood City Council to formally launch her campaign. This is notable in that the council election is in November and the filing period has yet to be established or opened.

Reddy announced Monday before more than 40 friends and supporters at the Main & Elm Restaurant. In brief remarks, Reddy said she has a “passion for the least of us” and that she would be an advocate for those who have been left out or pushed out by the economic boom in Redwood City.

“We have much poverty in the midst of plenty and much fear in the midst of security,” she said. She vowed “we will have a seat at the table” if she is elected.

“We need a new direction,” Reddy said, promising to “align our city’s priorities with our community’s needs.”

An advocate for rent control, Reddy told Political Climate that it was highly unlikely a rent control ballot measure will be put on the November ballot. If anyone would know, she would, Reddy said, and it’s clear there isn’t the widespread political support required to take on the interests that would be arrayed against such a measure. There are other ways to take on the issue, she said, implying that she could introduce a rent control measure if she is on the council. … Among those on hand at the Reddy kickoff was Steve Penna, publisher of the monthly magazine Spectrum. Both Penna and Reddy denied a widespread rumor that Penna had assumed a formal role in Reddy’s campaign management. Penna acknowledged that he has worked for business interests in the city, including Main & Elm, helping longtime friends with marketing services. But, he said, “I will never, ever work on a city council campaign.”

A MOMENT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE: Two nonprofit organizations I am honored to support held major events in the last seven days. Sequoia Awards held its annual dinner last Thursday at the Crowne Plaza in Foster City, dispersing 29 scholarships to Redwood City high school seniors for their volunteer service to our community. That’s a total of $215,000 awarded, including $25,000 to the top student, Clara MacAvoy. The Sequoia Awards also recognized Barbara Pierce and Dee Eva as 2018’s Outstanding Individuals for their work on the city’s sesquicentennial celebration and recognized the Canyon Inn and proprietors Tim and Stephanie Harrison for their constant generosity to the community. … Bay Area Cancer Connections held its annual spring benefit yesterday at Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club. Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim told the story of her own frontal assault on breast cancer with characteristic brio. I am honored to serve both of these organizations as a member of their boards of directors.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Youth seize the moment

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Hundreds, more likely thousands, of San Mateo County high school students joined millions of their peers across the country in “walking out” of school yesterday morning to protest gun violence and demand stricter gun laws.

After everyone went back to class, a group of Redwood City students from the four high schools serving the city stayed out, marching through downtown to City Hall and the San Mateo County courthouse before a dozen or so ended the day at the corner of Broadway and El Camino Real in front of the gate to Sequoia High School.

As a chill winter’s wind rushed by, they held up signs: “Thoughts and prayers are not enough”; and shouted messages: “A life. A life. Our lives are on the line” and “Your kids’ lives matter.” As they demonstrated, passing cars honked and drivers and passengers waved.

Between talk about why more of their peers didn’t stay out of school all day and possible consequences for their own actions, they expressed an understanding that the fight to change America’s gun laws is not a short-term undertaking.

“If we were only (staying) on campus, it defeats the purpose. We want to be heard,” said Ethan Aronson, a sophomore.

“Adults are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, so we have to step up,” said Grace Bartz, a sophomore.

Darcana Pacheco referred to the “butterfly effect,” in which one small action ripples into a sweeping impact, and Milo Kemper, a senior, said the day’s activities are “baby steps. … It’s going to be a different world.”

The most vocal in the group said they were prepared for the long effort it takes, but they also held an understandable hope that the massive numbers that marched yesterday will generate a more immediate political will to get something done.

And there was a sentiment that what has been awakened among a generation of high school students will continue to manifest itself.

“Parkland opened up the door for us, it made it possible for us to be heard,” said Grace Bartz.

By 3 p.m., when the school day was over, they had dispersed, going their separate ways.

But many, if not all, who occupied the Broadway/ECR corner will be at a march and rally in support of gun reform scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Redwood City as part of a national day of marches. Participants will meet at the Caltrain station and march to a rally at Courthouse Square.

A news release says the “student-led” rally is being organized by Belmont Councilman Charles Stone, Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, Carlmont High School Journalism Advisor Justin Raisner and students Sophie Penn from Carlmont, Holly Newman from Menlo-Atherton and Ria Calcagno from Woodside.

Said a Facebook post: “This is not a venue for politicians or adults to speak (though they are welcome!) This is about local high school students joining together with high school students across America to express their outrage and demand change.”

More information can be found at the Facebook page SM County March/Rally For Our Lives, at the Twitter page @NeverAgainRWC or on Instagram @marchforourlivesrwc.

RACING TO JUNE: Filing has closed for the June 5 primary, and only a few countywide officials face a challenge. Supervisor Carole Groom, who decided to run for re-election after weeks of speculation she might not, ended up without an opponent. Supervisor Don Horsley, who always intended to run again, drew opposition – Pacifica Planning Commissioner Dan Stegink. This may be a textbook example of irony. Or political shrewdness on Groom’s part. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Certainly, district elections are supposed to make it easier for a challenger to take on an incumbent, but as a political base, it’s hard to imagine the Pacifica Planning Commission is going to be much of a launching pad.

Incumbent Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder Mark Church is being challenged by John K. Mooney in what is becoming a perennial contest. Mooney, from Redwood City, has run twice against Church, the last time in 2014. Church won, 86 percent to 14 percent.

Appointed incumbent Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is being challenged by Mark Melville, whose career can best be described as peripatetic. A deputy sheriff in San Mateo County, he has been a police officer in Brisbane, Half Moon Bay and Patterson (in Stanislaus County); a city councilman and chief of police in Gustine, (Merced County); city manager and director of Public Safety in Livingston (Merced County); an adjunct professor at Modesto Junior College; and owned his own investigatory consulting business.

With Anne Campbell’s decision not to run again for county Superintendent of Schools, two of her employees are running: Associate Superintendent Nancy Magee and Deputy Superintendent Gary Waddell.

And then there’s the energetic Bridget Duffy of Pacifica, who has run for the City Council there but has not been discouraged by a lack of success. She is running for governor, U.S. Senator, Congress, state Assembly and county supervisor. She lists her occupation as homemaker, a job title you just don’t hear all that much anymore.

VACANCIES: With the announcement this week that Larry Patterson will step down in December as city manager of San Mateo, the number of current or would-be vacancies on the Peninsula is reaching historic levels.

Marcia Raines is leaving as city manager of Millbrae, Magda Gonzalez left the same job at Half Moon Bay (which Raines held before Gonzalez), Pat Martel is leaving Daly City, Connie Jackson is leaving San Bruno and John Maltbie is leaving his post as San Mateo County manager. There might be one or two other city managers also looking to retire, as well.

For decades, the county was known for stability in its city manager ranks. Several served for more than two decades in a job where everyone is one election from being dumped by a new council majority.

One name insiders are saying should be considered for these positions is Aaron Aknin, Redwood City’s assistant city manager/Community Development director.

Contact Mark Simon at


Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City’s ‘attitude’ emerging

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Perhaps you have noticed that your friends at ClimateRWC World Headquarters are holding a contest in which you are encouraged to nominate the absolutely very best stuff in this City of the Redwood – best late-night eats, best barber, best coffee shop, and so on.

This is a great idea and an unabashed effort to market all things Climate, an effort that I respect for its directness and because I’m hoping it means good things for Political Climate, which is not just a column but an attitude.

Speaking of attitude, I’ve been combing Google for the date a billboard appeared along Highway 101 that said something like: “Palo Alto Without the Attitude – Visit Downtown Redwood City.”

It was a fascinating, multi-layered billboard.

Really, there is no other place that has Palo Alto’s attitude. Only Palo Alto officials would call into question whether one of the city’s major downtown employers is even allowed to do business in – you know what’s coming – downtown.

Only Palo Alto has decided to insist that high-speed rail run through town underground, a proposal that now is estimated to cost $4 billion, and a notion every other neighboring city (except Atherton, which really doesn’t count because it’s a town) has abandoned as impractical and too expensive. A tunnel carries with it the possibility of destroying the root system of El Palo Alto, the tree for which the city is named. (At least Redwood City is named for a type of tree and not one measly tree.)

Actually, Palo Alto’s attitude is similar to San Francisco’s – they think people love the city so much it doesn’t matter what officials do to it, or don’t. It is a good example of being born at third base and thinking you hit a triple.

Anyway, when the billboard appeared, a much younger columnist was prompted to conclude that Redwood City, indeed, did not have Palo Alto’s attitude. Or its downtown restaurants. Or its schools. Or its income level or housing values. Or its well-known private university. In short, at the time of the billboard, there was no reason to go to Redwood City unless you liked a skyline dominated by the county jail and a nightlife dominated by empty streets and vacant storefronts.

The billboard would have been an ideal example of satire in that there was little in Redwood City about which to have an attitude, except that the people who put up the billboard were earnest and irony-free.

That was then. Now, Redwood City has all the things it didn’t have when that billboard first appeared. Much better schools, driven by a new generation of well-to-do parents who wanted something better for their kids. Downtown businesses. A staggering array of restaurants. A nightlife. A courthouse square unmatched as a regional gathering place. That well-known private university is expanding substantially into Redwood City, perhaps because the welcoming attitude of Palo Alto is characterized by momentum-deadening process.

And we’ve got Millennials by the Uber-load, packing the restaurants, crowding into bars, enjoying our sidewalk dining and filling up the downtown housing.

Some people in another venue have opted to rail against the techies. I say get to know one. It’s true, they can be skittish, but if you approach quietly, perhaps offering a free hoodie, they will be willing to eat out of your hand. They are as scared of you as you are of them.

In other words, Redwood City has attitude and we get to be on the ground floor of deciding what it’s going to be.

So, I’ve decided to supplement the Climate Best Contest with a few categories of my own, all in the interest of developing our own attitude about our on-the-go community.

Best Parking Space – It’s a complaint among those who don’t like how Redwood City has changed – there’s no place to park. We know that’s not true, but, unlike the old Redwood City, you can’t just pull up right in front of the one restaurant open after 7 p.m. any more. There are certain conditions: It has to be a space where you don’t pay and where you’ve never gotten a ticket. The Caltrain lot after 6 p.m. doesn’t count because they allow free parking there at that time. This is your best, most secret, sacred spot.

Best New Building – There are many complaints about all the new buildings in town. They can’t all be bad. Well, maybe they can, but which one is the best? And why? Better looking than the old buildings? More environmentally efficient? Better than what it replaced?

Best Old Building – What’s been saved that was worth saving? And an associated category:

Best Building That’s Been Torn Down – There’s a temptation to remember the past as better than it was. There is a difference between historic and old, however. What building are we better rid of? I’m thinking of the Mexican restaurant where someone died of food poisoning. That might have been a few owners ago, but the place is gone anyway.

Best Techie – Come on. You’ve met one, at least. They’re hard working. They travel in packs – usually three guys, one woman, at least one beard among them, and all sporting those envy-causing plastic ID badges. What was his or her name? What are they doing here? Do they like us? Oh, I hope so.

Best Friday Casual Outfit – In my prior job, I used to wear a necktie to meetings at Facebook, just to be different. Isn’t it great that they’re judged on the quality of their work and not the cost of their wardrobe? One day last summer, I saw two guys in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, wearing ID badges. I assumed they were executive vice presidents.

Best Online Publication Devoted To Redwood City News Named After The City’s Slogan – I’m thinking we win this one. I have noticed when I tell people I work for Climate that they think I’m an environmental writer. Depending on the context, I allow that to continue for a while.

Best Best Category – This one is for you. Send me your ideas for the best categories. And, what the heck, enter the Climate Best contest. It doesn’t cost you anything and you might make your barber happy.

Best Attitude – And finally, what is the Redwood City attitude? The city is on the verge of becoming the capital of the Peninsula – if it isn’t already. What should we say about us?

In the print edition of Climate Magazine, I incorrectly state Christina Umhofer supports rent control. She has taken no such position. I regret the error.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Facebook group could play role in local elections

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It is, in some ways, the modern equivalent of a town square, except that, as we all have observed, commenting online seems to elicit more boldness or bluntness than might occur in a face-to-face venue.

It is the Facebook membership page Redwood City Residents Say: What?  And with more than 4,500 followers, it is a factor in the more critical discussion of public issues in Redwood City and could be a factor in this year’s election and the content and flavor of the campaign.

While the number of followers is substantial, around 30 people comment regularly with much of the ongoing commentary dominated by a dozen or fewer persons who can be described fairly as unhappy with the changes that have taken place in Redwood City.

The page was founded in mid-2014 by Julie Pardini, a lifelong resident of Redwood City whose personal history includes a father who was a developer of a portion of the city once devoted to open fields. She has held a variety of administrative jobs at local businesses, and she studied piano and classical guitar at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

About three years ago, when the full scope of growth of Redwood City was beginning to be realized, she saw another page that focused on Redwood City’s past and thought there ought to be a place where people can talk about what is going on now.

She started Say: What? — the name reflects a general unease she said many residents feel about how the city is changing — and mentioned it at a City Council meeting. A couple of TV stations featured her, and “after that I was just treading water,” so many people wanted to join and participate.

“There were probably a lot of people feeling uneasy, frustrated that they didn’t know how to react to the changes taking place,” she told Political Climate.

She said the page is “like a neighborhood,” and even though most posters have never met in person, “we feel like we know each other.” The page even has a mascot, Zaheer, a dog that pops up occasionally.

Reflecting a community still sorting out all that has happened in it over the past several years, Pardini acknowledged that “those who are posting are unhappy.  I don’t think all are unhappy. I think some like the changes that are happening, with reservations.” Many, even the critics, are hopeful that the city will find a way to manage all the issues it faces, such as traffic and housing needs.

“People have been thrown off-balance,” Pardini said. “There have been some things lost in Redwood City. We don’t know what the replacement will be.  It may be we will make up for them with something better or more carefully” planned and executed.

Pardini admitted she struggles to find a balance between a page that is a free and open exchange of views and one that crosses the line — a line drawn by the standards of conduct she posted early on and prohibits personal attacks and unsubstantiated accusations.

While the page includes benign posts – a search for a babysitter, a lost cat – the most active posters also rail against how the city has changed for the worse. Some harshly dismiss “techies” who have driven up the cost of housing and caused historic traffic congestion. Some accuse the City Council of being “in the pocket” of developers and of mismanaging the city and its growth. Suspicion of motives is a sustaining theme among the regular posters, who often see conspiracy in every action by those with whom they disagree.

On the other hand, a recent post that amounted to a valentine to the city — a resident rode her bike to a vibrant downtown — elicited dozens of positive comments. But the post also drew harsh criticism and even the suspicion that the post was a plant and touched off a lengthy exchange between a few posters that prompted Pardini to delete some comments.

Pardini is an open supporter of council candidate Diana Reddy: “I’m a friend of hers and I believe in her all the way.” She indicated her support for Reddy on the page, where she finds such expressions well within the range of what should be acceptable commentary on Say: What? She also said she respects “the people who work in city government.”

Yet, she admitted  said she is “nervous” about the level of rhetoric leading up to the council election and is concerned it will be contentious.  As the moderator of the Say: What?, she said she will start paying closer attention to the content. “I’m stepping up my deleting,” she said.

She said she doesn’t like a sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations — the council has been bought off by developers, for example. “I don’t like it when there are people who are suspicious of (others) motives,” she said, calling it a “double-bind. … There’s no reason people need to make personal attacks.”

In all, she is proud of creating a forum where people can express their concerns about the city.  “It’s a mix anytime you get a roomful of people,” she said.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate by Mark Simon: Election changes to impact local campaigns

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As elections go, 2018 could be one we will all remember for years to come, the circumstances of this election being unusual in one aspect and unique in another.

First, uniquely, it will be vote by mail general election as a result of the California Voter’s Choice Act, authored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco. Voters still will be able to cast ballots at voting stations around the county, but the great majority of votes will be cast by mail.

Second, of San Mateo County’s 20 cities, 16 are holding council elections, having consolidated the local races with the statewide general election in November under threat of legal action.

The expectation among elections officials and most political analysts is that these two changes will result in higher-than-usual voter turnout, but no one really knows with any degree of certainty.

What is certain is that the changes put the city council candidates in a substantially different and potentially uneasy posture to these local campaigns.

Candidates rely on lists of likely voters – those who have voted in the last three or four elections – as a way of targeting their campaign efforts only to those most likely to show up and vote. Because every registered voter will get a ballot, it means the campaign has to take into account less-than-the-likeliest voters. The candidates who campaign door-to-door, which is most of them, will be in the uncomfortable position, perhaps, of walking past homes that may now contain someone who is more likely to vote this time, or expending more time and resources reaching out to voters with only sporadic participation records.

The consolidation with the statewide general election will mean substantially more voters at the polls than in the off-year cycle, historically an election with an abysmal turnout. But after they vote in the high-profile races of governor, U.S. senator, other statewide offices, legislative and congressional offices and statewide and regional ballot measures, how many voters will stick around to vote on the city council races?

Years past, when some local elections were consolidated with general elections, the number of votes cast in city council races tended to be the same as in an off-year.

The real change comes in the opportunities and the challenges these changes present. Candidates will struggle to be heard over the cacophony of a statewide election, particularly in a year when the political discourse is noisier than ever and many voters feel much is at stake.

On the other hand, the consolidated election is an opportunity for a creative candidate to make the pie bigger, to bring to the election new voters.

REDDY AND WILLING: It took a while to catch up with the other announced Redwood City City Council challenger, Diana Reddy, who, it turns out, is counting on the consolidated election to accrue to her benefit.

Self-described “social justice person” and housing advocate, Reddy is a former administrative assistant at the Sequoia Union High School District, former co-chair (twice) of the social justice activist organization Peninsula Interfaith Action (now Faith in Action), former member of the city’s Housing and Human Concerns Committee and a member of the Housing Leadership Council. She’s also a familiar sight at local labor picket lines, advocating for workers’ rights.

In an interview with Political Climate, she said the campaign issues will be education, health care, housing and transportation and how those issues affect the ability of some to remain in the community.

By background and passion, her focus is on housing for those who feel pushed aside and left out of the boom that has occurred in the last decade. While the city has over-achieved in building market-rate housing, it is far behind where it should be in building below-market and affordable housing, she said.

“San Mateo County has the lowest percentage of affordable housing of all the Bay Area counties, yet we are the wealthiest of those counties,” Reddy said. “It is important to me to fill the void we have in our community.”

She is counting on the consolidated election to bring out voters who don’t fit the profile of a typical likely voter, who is white, more than 50 years old and upper middle-class property owner.

“This is an opportunity for me to go into neighborhoods where they’re not used to candidates coming to their door,” Reddy said.

FAMILY MATTERS: In a truly rare turn of events, all three incumbents up for re-election this year in San Carlos will not be running, a complete turnover of the majority of the council.

In a city that prides itself on being family oriented – in late January for nearly a decade, the city has held a Week of the Family with special events and contests – two of the council members cite the demands of family as the reason not to seek reelection.

Vice Mayor Cameron Johnson told Political Climate that his first term will be his only term. He has two children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, and both are entering critical ages where the presence of an attentive father is of incalculable importance. Add to that the demands of his job as director of Product Innovation at Netflix and serving on the council “just takes up a tremendous amount of time. … Where’s my highest responsibility?” In five years, his daughter will be 12 “and I don’t want to miss those years.”

He said he “feels good” about the job he has done on the council, and he hopes to play a key role in the formation of a San Carlos Community Foundation he led the effort to establish with $2 million from a $6 milli9on settlement with PG&E over a faulty gas line.

At the council organizational meeting in mid-December, 16-year incumbent and contrarian Matt Grocott bowed out of consideration for mayor or vice mayor and subsequently indicated he would not run for another term. Grocott said he wants the freedom to devote time and attention to his 15-year-old son, an activity he says speaks to his sense of “the full measure of a man.”

Mayor Bob Grassilli, re-elected mayor for the extra year necessitated by the election consolidated, has said publicly that he will not run again.

As you might expect, these decisions already are prompting several candidates to step up timelines.

AFTER HILL: State Senator Jerry Hill is widely regarded as the model for a candidature who announces early, works hard and effectively closes out possible opposition.

Now, Hill is termed out and among Redwood City City Councilwoman Shelley Masur hopes to emulate the senator, who can be described as outgoing in more ways than one. Masur formed a fundraising committee last week and she expects to spend most of this year “putting some building blocks in place” and listening to voter concerns.

Masur is barely halfway through her first term on the council. She ran countywide for the Board of Supervisors, losing to Warren Slocum, and she served 10 years on the Redwood City School District Board.

The legislative office affords a better venue to tackle the issues affecting her community and about which she is passionate: public health, housing and transportation.

Supervisor Dave Pine confirmed in other publications he is looking at running for the Senate. A prior column mentioned Menlo Park City Councilwoman Kirsten Keith as a rumored candidate, but she told Political Climate she is running for re-election and is “not interested” in running for the Senate seat.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate by Mark Simon: Groom to seek third term

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There was much behind-the-scenes speculation that San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom might opt out of a run for a third term. But she’s running, she told Political Climate.

Appointed to a vacant seat in 2009, elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, Groom said she has “unfinished business,” particularly the Big Lift, the countywide effort she initiated to raise the reading proficiency level of third-grade students from 58 percent to 80 percent by 2020. The initiative is backed by the San Mateo County Office of Education and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Groom wants to make sure “it keeps moving.” Also on her unfinished agenda is a reinvention of the San Mateo County Events Center as a true regional venue.

Stepping down also would have meant leaving the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board of Directors and the California Coastal Commission, not to mention the San Mateo County Transit District Board of Directors and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.

The Transit District is preparing a half-cent ballot measure for November that seeks to resolve significant financial shortfalls that hamper its ability to reinvent itself as a modern mobility agency. (Full Disclosure: I retired from the transit agency in December and was in a leadership role on work to prepare for a ballot measure.)

Groom is worried it will be tough to convince the public the agency needs the money. “I don’t know if anybody believes us, or wants to believe us,” she said. With the county winning passage of two sales tax measures in the past six years, “We may have gone to the well too many times.” Of course, a campaign is all about making believers.

Prior to her decision, the speculation Groom might not run turned up a number of people ready to run for the seat, most notably Belmont City Councilman Charles Stone. Other names that were being raised: San Mateo City Council members Diane Papan, Maureen Freschet and Joe Goethals.

STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND: San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie is retiring this year – late fall or early winter, depending on the timeliness of the much-vaunted nationwide search for his replacement.

In an interview on Peninsula TV’s show The Game, co-hosted by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and me, Maltbie’s most provocative observations were on the future of the county.

“Most of the people who live in the county like it the way it is,” he said. But that stands in the direct path of changes that already have occurred in the county and are not going to be turned back.

The cost of housing has changed fundamentally the demographic makeup of the county, so that, for example, there simply are fewer children..

He cites the county Youth Services Center in Belmont, which we used to call Juvenile Hall. The facility was renovated and reopened in 2006. At the time, the center had a capacity of 180. A year later, the daily population was 159. This year, it is 60, Maltbie said.

“There are fewer kids living here, and fewer kids getting in trouble,” Maltbie said.

“Twenty years from now (the county) won’t look anything like it does now” due to gentrification, he said.

The full interview can be viewed here:

OUT, FOR NOW: Jason Galisatus, co-chair of the city Downtown Association and board member of the Redwood City Education Foundation, has opted not to run for the city council this year, while leaving quite open a run in 2020.

He said the above-mentioned initiatives, and others in which he is engaged have “got my hands full. The best way to serve my community is to work on those.”

One of the bright, rising stars in the city, Galisatus would have been the only Millennial in the race at a time when the city, particularly downtown, is increasingly populated by tech workers in their 20s. Galisatus said the city council ought to include a Millennial, so that this newer but significant element of the city can “see people like themselves” in office.

Galisatus said he is “certainly happy with the direction of the city. There is more we can do to address the twin crises of housing and transportation.”

He said he probably will endorse in the race, but was not prepared to say who that might be, although it’s worth noting that when Giselle Hale announced her candidacy on Facebook, Galisatus was among those who gave her the “like” thumb’s up.

ALREADY RUNNING: San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and Redwood City City Councilwoman Shelly Miller Masur have confirmed they’re both interested in running for Democrat Jerry Hill’s State Senate seat in 2020, when he is termed-out. Now, the rumor mill has added Menlo Park City Councilwoman Kirsten Keith as another interested party.

JERRY COHN: It has been a few weeks, but I don’t want any more time to pass without offering a few words about everybody’s friend, Jerry Cohn, a multi-decade veteran of the Sheriff’s office for whom a memorial was held a few weeks ago at the Woodside Village Church. Jerry died at the end of the year after a prolonged struggle with cancer. The church was packed to overflowing for his memorial, where he was remembered as radiant and known for his disarming humor and his ability to make instant friends with anyone. He was described as loquacious and gregarious and he would have loved that so many of his friends were on hand to remember him. Among those speaking at his memorial: District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, former Sheriff Greg Munks, current Sheriff Carlos Bolanos and County Manager Maltbie.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo Courtesy of Carole Groom’s Facebook

Political Climate by Mark Simon: Council race will be costly, rough

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The flurry of activity in the Redwood City City Council race at the start of February has settled down a bit, but some would-be candidates are still contemplating their options.

Veteran Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt, who ran unsuccessfully for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 2012 and for the city council in 2013, said he is “50/50 about running this time.” He sounds like he’s leaning toward passing this time and running in 2020, when term limits and higher ambitions among current council incumbents may mean more open seats.

As for 2018, it will be the first council election to be part of the statewide general election, which means much bigger turnout and a base of voters well beyond the number who participated in prior elections, and these voters will have to be contacted. Add to that the noise and attention of a statewide ballot that includes races for governor and U.S. senator, and a local candidate will struggle to be heard.

Schmidt estimates a campaign for city council this year will be the most expensive ever. Do I really want to spend 90 grand?” Schmidt said.

Then there’s the expectation among many that this council race will be distinctly contentious as some of the most controversial issues play out between hardened camps.

“It’s such a weird climate,” Schmidt said. “The race is going to be very noisy. I don’t know if I have ear muffs strong enough for all the noise.”

EXPECTATIONS: Schmidt’s reference to the political climate is accurate: In talking with a number of candidates, it is clear the expectation is for a rough campaign.

That’s one reason my debut column expressed disappointment and impatience with an anonymous complaint filed at the state Fair Political Practices Commission against incumbent Jeff Gee. Since that appeared, I’ve been told that all complaints to the FPPC preserve the anonymity of the complainant, even if that person identifies himself or herself to the FPPC.

Well, that’s not true. Complainants have the option of remaining anonymous. In fact, they have to take an affirmative step to preserve their anonymity. That was the case in this complaint filed by a self-described “concerned citizen of Redwood City.” The same complainant later says, “I am filing this complaint anonymously as I am concerned for my job if named.”

Of course, we have no way of knowing if any of that is true, nor are we able to assess the motives of the complainant.

The timing is significant: the complaint was filed on Dec. 29, 2016, when it still looked as if Gee would be on the ballot in 2017. Was it filed for political mischief and to burden Gee with a political wound at a critical time? Is that fair or accurate speculation? Who knows? The complainant knows, and he or she is welcome to call me up and straighten me out if my speculation is off-base.

NEW FACES: I had a chance to talk to several of the new names emerging for the 2018 council race, one of whom, Giselle Hale, is the most recent to enter the race, doing so today via a Facebook announcement.

Christina Umhofer described herself first as a “lifetime resident” of Redwood City and as someone who believes in actively engaging in the issues that concern her. “If I’m going to have a criticism, I should put myself in the role of doing something about it.”

In prior publications, she has been labeled a “residentialist,” a label she said “other people have put on me.”

The issues of the campaign, she said, will be rent control, growth, parks and open space and infrastructure.

She understands “we have to grow in order to survive and thrive. …I think we could pause for three to six months and see what our city and residents need. We have afforded ourselves the opportunity to pause for a few seconds.”

As a property owner – Umhofer’s family owns a long-established auto garage – the economic growth has benefited her property values. But Umhofer said there have been unreconciled impacts on roads and sewer systems and not everyone has benefited. She said she wants to understand what else needs to be done for the whole of the city’s residents.

Rick Hunter answered questions via email and said the major issues facing the city are “severe budget difficulties, the affordable housing crisis and jobs/housing imbalance and the balance between quality of life and growth.”

With a decades-long record of civic activism as a volunteer and as a member of city and school commissions and foundation boards, “It’s the right time to use my experience to help guide the city through the next very important period.”

A CPA with an MBA from UCLA, Hunter said his background in finance and accounting will be valuable “In making difficult budget decisions as the city faces a growing problem with unfunded pension liabilities.”

As for Hale, her Facebook announcement began with a Valentine to the city: “I love you Redwood City.” She said she is running “because I will work to ensure residents and families of all ethnic and economic backgrounds can live in Redwood City and not just make it here – but thrive.”

Her local experience includes a seat on the Planning Commission and a board member on the Redwood City Education Foundation. A product director for Facebook, Hale’s activism includes Democratic campaign work on behalf of President Barack Obama and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and the leadership council for the National Partnership for Women and Families.

She said she is concerned whether Redwood City can remain family-friendly. She was prompted to ask: “Why not me, why not now?”

“It is becoming unsustainable to raise a family in Redwood City,” she said, noting that her school-age children have seen the families of friends move out of the area because of the cost of living, particularly housing.

“We need to decide how that’s going to play out,” Hale said. “We’re raising the first generation of children who won’t drive cars.”

Like other candidates, Hale said the next step is to spend time talking to fellow residents, understanding their concerns and working together to learn how to address them.

“Any candidate who is running is out listening right now,” Hale said.

Mark Simon can be reached at

Political Climate by Mark Simon: Seybert stepping down, but sticking around

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When Redwood City Councilman John Seybert was first elected in 2008, at the onset of the national recession, he walked the city’s neighborhoods handing out postcards listing his goals: mainly to build the city to a place of financial stability, and to realize the community’s vision for downtown.

Today, Redwood City’s finances are in the best shape in years and stable, and the city’s center “has really come to life,” Seybert said. The progress has played into Seybert’s decision not to seek another term on the council, which is rare for an incumbent.

But that doesn’t mean Seybert is going anywhere. In a lengthy interview with Climate Online, Seybert discussed his plans for continued involvement in his community, an activism that began before he ran for office and was never dependent on official trappings.

He said he would have run again if he was certain “I hadn’t finished the work I set out to do and if there was no one ready to step up.” That’s not to say there isn’t more to do. “There are always more things you want to do,” Seybert said.

“This a good place for me not to retire, but to redeploy myself somewhere else,” said Seybert, who spent eight years in the Planning Commission, nine years on the City Council. “I don’t plan to be less busy, I plan to be differently busy.”

Seybert’s transition provides him an opportunity to reflect on the current political climate in Redwood City, particularly the complaints from some that Redwood City was a better place 25 or 30 years ago, before the growth that has dominated the past decade.

“I say it this way,” Seybert said. “There are some people who hate the city they always hated.” In other words, some people hated Redwood City the way it was – a downtown without any real substance – and what it has become.

As he put it, some people following Moses probably complained, “Let’s go back to Egypt.”

He acknowledged there is more traffic and congestion downtown, but said that’s a sign of a vigorous city center, one with places to go, things to do and people there who want to do those things.

When he first moved to Redwood City, he lived three blocks from downtown and “I liked it when I could always get a seat at dinner,” Seybert said. “But that’s not a vibrant community.” People who complain about no parking downtown should check in with the owners of their favorite restaurants. They may like that so many people are in a downtown that was notably a “ghost town” after 5 p.m., Seybert said.

Beyond his own campaign commitments of 2008, Seybert said the other controlling factor in his decision was whether there are new faces ready to take on leadership roles.

Besides Jeff Gee and Diane Howard, council colleagues who are seeking re-election, Seybert is looking for new leadership reflecting the changing city. “Who is our next generation leader? The city needs to be led into the future by the future,” he said. “Is there somebody to take my place?”

New faces are emerging. You will hear about some of them in my next column.

Seybert believes there is, and that he would serve the city well by getting out of the way.

“Nobody can step up unless there’s a place to step up.” He said there are such leaders emerging and he is likely to endorse someone he describes as from the “next generation. … I don’t know who that will be, yet.”

How he might next be engaged and of service he has yet to decide, Seybert said, but it will be about what’s next for the city, not about how Redwood City used to be.

“I don’t believe in leading an organization by looking in the rear-view mirror,” he said.


Political Climate by Mark Simon: Redwood City Council Race starts early; incumbent Seybert bows out

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For the last 13 years, I worked at the San Mateo County Transit District, and often I would tell people I was a recovering journalist. For the prior 35 years, I worked for newspapers as a political writer and local columnist, including the Redwood City Tribune, the Peninsula Times-Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle before leaving the news business.

Well, so much for that. Starting with this column, I am returning to the news business, writing for Climate Online and Climate Magazine. It is personally exciting to write and report regularly on the community where I have worked and lived for more than 40 years, a community I love for what it was and what it remains – dynamic, restless, always looking for what’s next.

There is no better time than right now to write about Redwood City. It will be a watershed political year at time when the city is poised to become the capital of the Peninsula, when change is occurring in every corner and when we all have to find a way to manage what is happening here.

As a columnist, I have the freedom to express a point of view, but, more than anything else, I believe in fairness, facts and openness in government and politics. Everyone will get a fair shake from me and everyone will be held accountable for what they say, including me. I have no interest in opinion masquerading as fact or opinion built on false assumptions.

As we launch this new enterprise, few things are dominating the local landscape quite like the race this year for the Redwood City City Council (that’s right – city, twice), which encompasses everything else on anyone’s mind – housing, transportation and traffic, digesting the changes that have occurred and the changes still to come.

Three council seats are up this election cycle, the first aligned with a statewide general election, an impact we’ll address in another column.

Incumbent Jeff Gee clearly intends to seek another term, and incumbent Diane Howard confirmed to Climate Online she is running and has formed a campaign committee.  See more on Howard below.

Incumbent John Seybert has decided not to run, telling Climate Online in an interview that he thinks there should be room in this election for some new faces, and that he looks forward to serving his community in other ways. Seybert sat down for an extensive interview, thoughtfully reflecting on what has occurred during his nine years on the council and nearly 20 years in city service. That interview will be featured in a subsequent column.

The filing deadline for this race is so far off in the future, the City Clerk has yet to receive the county elections department’s schedule for candidates to file for office.

Nonetheless, a number of names already have cropped up as declared or would-be candidates, and a few have bowed out already.

Among the non-incumbents running, a Facebook posting appeared to be venue du jour for announcing.

Diana Reddy, self-described affordable housing advocate, declared her candidacy on Facebook recently “after considerable soul-searching,” virtually guaranteeing that rent control will be a campaign issue.

Planning Commissioner Rick Hunter, whose experience includes serving prominently on the city Parks and Rec Commission, the Redwood City Education Foundation and the city Parks and Arts Foundation, also declared on his Facebook page.

Christina Umhofer, a board member of Corbett Group Homes, said she has yet to announce her candidacy, but has formed a campaign committee and is running. By the way, she was described elsewhere as a “residentialist.” She told me that’s a label “other people have put on me,” apparently after she said, “I’m from
Redwood City, for the people of Redwood City,” hardly the kind of statement to inspire labeling.

The emergence of all three at once prompted some to hope eagerly for a slate to take on all others, but Hunter, among others flatly declared to Climate Online: “I am not running on a slate with any other candidates.”

Planning Commissioner Giselle Hale confirmed she will run. Her political experience includes field director for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and campaign manager for Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s 2008 re-election campaign.

Other names in circulation: Planning Commission Chair Nancy Radcliffe and Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt. If all these commissioners run, it should make for interesting meetings.

We will report at more length on all of these candidates in upcoming columns.

What is clear already is that the most outspoken critics of the new Redwood City want to target Gee for defeat.

As an aside, I have no patience for the anonymous complaint filed against Gee with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. It appears spurious at best, a view reinforced to no small degree by the anonymity of the complainant. One of the expectations all of us should have for this election – likely to be heated and, by some descriptions, contentious – is honesty. Until the person steps up, the inclination is to dismiss the complaint as solely prompted by the meanest of politics, intent on winning by tearing someone down. Whoever filed the complaint ought to step out of the shadows. If you want to challenge his ethics, show some of your own.

Anyway, expect Gee to run hard and with considerable support from most of the community’s high-profile leaders. More on Gee in future columns.

Also running for re-election is Diane Howard, who is seeking her sixth term on the council. She served four terms, stepped aside in 2009, and then ran again in 2013. As the current vice mayor, her re-election is likely to mean she will be mayor in two years, when the balance of her council colleagues is up for re-election.

In an interview, Howard said she is running because, “I absolutely love serving. … I absolutely love every element of it – the good, the bad and ugly.” Her record of service beyond the council was sufficient for her to receive the Sequoia Awards Outstanding Individual Award, reflecting a long list of volunteer activities in which she engaged over decades.

She acknowledged the current political climate “is difficult these days, people jumping to conclusions, saying bad things without thinking.” The way for an officeholder to counteract that is to invite people of all opinions “to have coffee and let’s talk.”

It is evident to everyone that Redwood City has changed, she said, and the next campaign is an opportunity to understand what that change has meant and to ask, “What can we do to make Redwood City the community we want it to be?”

Her focus in the coming term would be on housing, transportation, the next wave of change on El Camino Real and the quality and character of the architecture of the city’s new look.

“I agree some of our architecture is not something I’m proud of,” she said. As the city turns its attention to development of El Camino, she sees that as an opportunity “to do some really good architecture and building” that sets a look and feel for the city’s principal boulevard and western edge.

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